Recently we put up this post with some tips on how unloved open spaces in our communities could be transformed by local residents without the need for hierarchical organisation: How to maintain a community garden:) 24.4.22. The tips were based on the experience of the locals who created and maintained the ‘Sensible Garden’ in South Norwood over in South London. Scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a fair few ‘informal’ gardens like this dotted around, each with their own unique story.

One of those gardens we know about is up in Laindon on an estate by the A127. It was started by an activist with Basildon & Southend Housing Action and has been, and currently is being maintained by residents from one of the blocks on the estate. It’s not always been plain sailing and there have been downs as well as ups in keeping the garden going. That’s only to be expected on an estate that arguably has more than its fair share of problems. The point is that residents have learned and are still learning to deal with life situations that could potentially derail the garden and are keeping it going.

That’s because there’s a recognition that the garden plays a role in building community cohesion in the block it’s situated next to. It’s a place where when the weather is decent, people can simply meet and chat. It’s a source of fresh vegetables in an area that if you don’t have access to a vehicle, could be considered a food desert. There are also ornamental plants there just to add a bit of cheer and colour. By doing a bit of gardening, residents are getting close to nature, getting out in the fresh air and getting some light exercise as well.

What’s key about this is the scale of this garden. It’s maintained by residents from just one block. Everyone knows everyone who’s involved with the garden and that helps with accountability towards each other. Because of the localised scale of the project, there’s no need for any formal organisation. It’s mutual aid and solidarity in action.

Sure, outfits like Incredible Edible do a lot of good but their model of setting up and running community gardens is not the only way of getting things done. The resident run garden up in Laindon is a D.I.Y. effort at the other end of the spectrum and just as valid. For a variety of reasons, residents may well prefer the D.I.Y. approach rather than a more top down approach. Then again, they may want something in between. The point is that for a community garden to be a long term success, it has to be resident led.

We hope that what has been achieved up in Laindon can act as an inspiration to other people on the forgotten estates without access to a garden of their own. These gardens are about taking back a little bit of control and giving residents the means to start shaping the environment they live in. They’re small but vital steps in starting to build the new world we want to live in…